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Types of Abuse and Neglect in Sports

Abuse in youth sports can take several forms, but all involve a power imbalance, usually the power of the coach or a parent over the athlete.

The following information should help you identify the different forms abuse or neglect can take, though it is not a complete list of behaviors that are considered abuse and neglect:

Emotional Abuse

  • Name calling
  • Insulting
  • Shouting
  • Belittling
  • Threatening
  • Humiliating
  • Scapegoating
  • Ignoring
  • Rejecting
  • Bullying
  • Taunting
  • Shunning
  • Isolating

Physical Abuse

  • Slapping
  • Hitting
  • Shaking
  • Throwing equipment at or near a player
  • Kicking
  • Pulling hair or ears
  • Striking
  • Shoving
  • Grabbing
  • Hazing
  • Punishing "poor" play or rule violations through the use of excessive exercise or by denying fluids 

Sexual Abuse

  • Requesting sexual acts
  • Indecent exposure
  • Fondling genitals
  • Penetration
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Sodomy
  • Sexual exploitation (prostitution)
  • Exposure to or creation of pornographic materials

Neglect in sports

  • Improperly treating injuries and forcing injured athletes to play
  • Inadequate equipment
  • Lack of supervision during overnight trips
  • Allowing bullying or hazing by teammates

Key points to remember:

  • Different types of abuse often occur at the same time; for example, while physically or sexually abusing a child, an adult often emotionally abuses them as well
  • Both boys and girls can be victims of abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse, and both male and female coaches can be perpetrators.
  • There are no excuses for abusing or neglecting a child.
  • Abuse and neglect are NEVER the child's fault. 

We urge you to discuss this information with your child in an age-appropriate way so that they are aware of what counts as inappropriate treatment.

Charlotte Wilinsky is an intern at MomsTEAM and a graduate student in the community social psychology master's program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her research interests include child maltreatment, including abuse and neglect, and psychology and law. Before attending UMass Lowell, Charlotte earned her B.A. with honors in psychology at Amherst College, where she was a member of the women's tennis team.